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Centennial brought postmaster general to his birthplace

Staff writer

Call it serendipity or just plain coincidence. At the very time the Mennonites of central Kansas were getting ready to celebrate the centennial of the arrival of turkey red wheat in Kansas almost 50 years ago, the postmaster general of the United States, Elmer “Ted” Klassen, was a native of Hillsboro.

The much-touted turkey red wheat seed was first brought to Kansas by Mennonites migrating from Ukraine in 1874. Turkey red became the foundation for hard winter wheat that gained Kansas the reputation of being the breadbasket of the world.

Klassen was born in Hillsboro in 1906 and moved with his family to California at the age of 6.

He dropped out of school at age 16 to become a messenger at American Can Co. He rose to become an accountant and executive at its San Francisco headquarters.

He excelled in industrial relations, and the company sent him to New York to be groomed for management. He eventually became vice president and then president from 1965 to 1968.

President Richard Nixon appointed Klassen as deputy postmaster general in January 1969. He became postmaster general in 1972 and served for three years.

It was at that time that several community leaders in Hillsboro began planning for a turkey red wheat centennial celebration in 1974. They commissioned a design for a commemorative stamp, which Klassen approved. A logo also was developed.

In September 1973, Governor Robert Docking issued a proclamation designating 1974 as the year of the Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat Centennial.

Hillsboro and Goessel churches, schools, and civic organizations made plans to celebrate with special events.

Aug. 16, 1974, was set as the day for an official ceremony to introduce the turkey red wheat stamp.

Hillsboro postmaster Wilmer Boothe presided at the event on the Tabor College campus. Tabor president Roy Just welcomed almost 2,000 people who reportedly attended the event. A representative of the Kansas Wheat Commission made remarks.

Norton Goertz of Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Association introduced Postmaster General Klassen, who gave a brief speech.

Other commemorative activities followed.

Joint worship services were conducted Aug. 18 at Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church in Hillsboro and Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church at Goessel.

Historical tours of Marion County were offered Aug. 19. Goessel had a centennial parade and dedicated a proposed Winter Wheat Palace museum.

The centennial was the theme for the Marion County Fair that week. A historical pageant directed by Tabor was presented at the fair each evening.

Last modified Jan. 6, 2022

 

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